In 2014 when I had my first (and only) running injury I took up cycling and swimming to cross train. Swimming I quickly realized was a great way to gain fitness and help prevent running injury. Cycling was fun too. But both lacked something that running had. With cycling you need gear and lots of it. When you talk to cyclists the conversation will likely be dominated by frames, brakes, gears, power meters, and other pieces of equipment I barely understand. When I bought my first bike I came up beside another cyclist at a stop light and he said "nice bike, Ultegra something or other" (I immediately stopped paying attention) and then he sped off like a sleek bullet. Cycling magazines are 75% gear catalogues and rounded out by talk of how to shave seconds off your crits (I think that's what they are called). The big thing is that while I really enjoy commuting to work on a bike (versus a car) and even getting a workout in on my road bike it doesn't connect me with anything. I feel isolated on my carbon fibre frame in my shiny spandex.
Swimming can be a little simpler if you just hop in a lake, but for the most serious exerciser you need a wetsuit or a pool. Gear comes into the equation and lets be honest, swimming feels fantastic (once you get over the initial learning curve where you feel certain you may drown) but you aren't sightseeing.
It was the same with hockey when I played. Gear, an isolated ice rink and beer. Lots of beer. Baseball? I love baseball, but same thing. And you need 8 other players just for your team at a minimum. Volleyball? Football? Soccer? Same.
It's running that's simple. Oh yes we over complicate it. We buy running watches and fancy shoes but when it boils right down to the act of running it's really just as close to natural of a sport we can have as humans. We really are born to run. Whether I'm cruising through my neighbourhood at 6 am before everyone is awake, sightseeing in a new city or hitting the trails I'm in touch with my world, loping through it like any other animal. It's primal in it's nature.
And you can't cheat at running. Sure you can jog out your training runs, miss a few workouts but it all shows up when you decide to test your fitness. It's the ultimate beating of the chest when you line up against your running companions and try to beat them to the finish line at a race or the next light post on a training run. Those that lack the heart or haven't put in the time will be exposed. You have no team to fall back on, no rule books, no excuses. It's you naked versus an unblinking clock, the repetitive loping of your running mates and nature itself. And in that you find the greatest rewards. Fast or slow, you are out there doing it, gutting it out and living. There is nothing like breathing heavy, sweating and moving through your world to get you in touch with it and yourself.
So when you ask why running, I can only say that running is as close as you can get to being human and still being part wild animal. It's peaceful and yet difficult. Rewarding and challenging. It's perfect.